November 29, 2005

On Being a Cold-Weather Football Fan

I was talking with my friend yesterday who had been home to Greenwood, Mississippi for Thanksgiving, where one of her relatives is married to Kent Hull, former Buffalo Bill who is a three-time pro-bowler and who went to The Show four consecutive seasons.

Kent was the center and anchor of the offensive line during the greatest era in football (at least to those of us in Western New York). He played 121 straight games in his 11-year career. During that time, the Bills enjoyed eight winning seasons and won four consecutive AFC titles. Kent was also one of the team's captains for his final seven years.

Being a Bills fan during that era was probably as wild a sports fan experience as any in history. No team before or since has run the hurry-up offense like the Bills did during those years. No team has come from behind more times to earn more surprise wins like the Bills during those years. No team rushed back and back and back and back to the Superbowl with the same players like the Bills did.

And no team handed as many heartbreaks to as many loyal fans who loved them as completely as we loved the Bills during those years.

God, those were the days.

Mmmm. Sleepy Sundays. TV and radio on at the same time. All night call-in shows after the games. .... yes they were the days.

Which isn't to say that I want to get stuck there.

So let me keep going with why I started this post in the first place.


So, during my friend's conversation with Kent Hull, she told him that she and I had been talking about the team last week. We were talking about the amazing players during that era, especially the offensive line and Kent at the helm, and we were trying to remember Steve Christie's name, and it was one of those tip-of-my-tongue moments where I got stuck on Norwood and couldn't get past it. yada yada yada.

Next she was telling Kent about how her friend-and-bills-fan thought he was one of the most amazing players to have ever graced an offensive line with his presence.

His response: "Wow, I'm just happy someone remembers me."


Remembers him?

I said, "Did you tell him he kept me alive?"

And that's the thing really. From 1980 - 1994, which is when I left Rochester, football kept me alive. Partly, that's the kind of football fan I am. And partly, that's just how it is when you spend half the year at or below freezing temperatures. When autumn hints that it's on its way, you might drive your car into a guardrail without knowing that football season is there to ease you gently into winter. By the time the superbowl and pro bowl are over, you're well into the worst of winter and spring is next on the agenda.

That transitional power of football season is no accident.

And there were some dark times, very dark yes, when it was the reason that this resident of the icy tundra of the Great Lakes decided to go on another day. A reason to brush 8 inches of caked snow off my car one more day. To shovel the driveway one more day. To step through slush one more day. To wrap a scarf around my dry mouth and lungs one more day. To stay hermetically sealed in a 61-degree house one more day. To slide my four tires for a half hour down 390 to work on top of a sheet of ice one more day. To fall on my back walking in pumps one more day. To stand on the register feeling the forced air heat on my legs until the hives on my skin went down one more day. To wipe freezing snot from my nose one more day. To zip up, pull on, wrap around, strap on, and seal up one more day. To trudge through three feet of snow to get the bills from the mail box one more day. To weather dark grey skies, whipping wind, and frozen ear lobes one more day. To never, ever, ever be warm one more day. To coat my cracked, bloody lips with lotion and squeeze my bleeding nose until it stopped one more day. To slide into one more light pole one more day.

Knowing that a game is coming, knowing that it matters, knowing that the guys in the uniforms in a stadium with no roof and no heat and 20-below temperatures with frozen fingers and bare arms are going to bust every inch of their skin and bones for me -- one more day. Knowing that it's never, ever over, and the two-minute offense is a game within a game, knowing that it starts again next Sunday and next Sunday and next Sunday, like the blanket of snow and sleet that is constant...just knowing that.

Remember you?

Kent, you kept me alive.